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If you’ve ever been trail riding, you know what a treat it can be. There’s such a feeling of freedom and adventure that can allow you to bond with your horse. But if you haven’t taken the right steps, it can become a disaster if something goes wrong. Knowing health care basics, first aid, and how to handle emergencies are all important things to know in any situation, but it’s especially important when you’re out on the trail. Preparation is key, and being prepared can help prevent such a disaster.

The first thing to do before going out on the trail is to make sure that both the rider and the horse are physically ready for the rigors of trail riding. For the horse, trail riding is often more rigorous than ring work. Making sure the horse is physically ready for the trail is important. Many times, we’re just ready to get out there and ride, but the horse isn’t. We wouldn’t just go up to the starting line of a marathon without any preparation, and trail riding is just the same for the horse. Starting out with smaller rides and building up is important.

It’s also important to make sure that we humans are also physically ready for longer trail rides. Being in good physical shape, used to altitude if riding in places with altitude changes, and being comfortable in various weather conditions are all important.

Safety is also a priority in trail riding. Other preparations to take into account are map and compass reading skills. Knowing these two things can help prevent you from becoming lost or taking a wrong turn on a trail. Knowing how to take care of yourself and your horse in the event of an overnight stay on the trail is also handy to know.

Many people like to ride in a group as it can be more fun. Riding alone can be risky, as it is only you out there. Riding in a group can be safer. However, choose your group carefully. Even if you’re an experienced trail rider, you can still ride an inexperienced trail horse, but too many inexperienced trail horses can lead to trouble. Having an experienced trail horse can be a calm, collected example and leader to other horses on the trail.

Above all, don’t forget your own horsemanship experience. Don’t go above and beyond your knowledge and skill – this can put you and others at risk. Be a confident rider and horseman and only do what is comfortable with your level of knowledge. Do not try anything new without help or an experienced rider to guide you. Be safe, and have fun.

With the school year in its last few weeks, thoughts are beginning to turn to summer. And with summer comes fairs and 4-H and FFA projects. Of course there are the showings  Still need some ideas for your projects? Look no further!

Of course, there are the showings for the animals you’ve been raising, or the plants you’ve been growing. But if those aren’t your cup of tea, there are other projects you can take on:

Arts & Crafts

If you have a flair for the creative, you can show your creativity through a variety of projects. You could sew clothes, for a doll or yourself. Create planters for your garden. Make jewelry or scarves from old t-shirts. Or even use fruits and vegetables as stamps!

Gardening

Got a green thumb? If so, you can use it to make your own garden. Use old egg cartons, or even the eggshells themselves to start some seedlings. A wagon wheel can create sections to plan many different plants. Or even make your own mulch.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Have fun coming up with your own, and good luck!

Every year, we hear about how important it is to get our flu shots. There’s been bird flu, swine flu, dogs can even get the flu – but can horses get the flu?

Horses can in fact get the flu – equine flu. It’s a virus, just like the influenza that we can catch, but it’s specific to horses and rarely jumps species, so you’re highly unlikely to catch it from your horse.

As with our flu, equine flu can be spread from horse to horse when an infected horse coughs or sneezes. Horses need to be in fairly close proximity to each other in order for the virus to spread. So if you have a horse that is not exposed to other horses very often, your chances of your horse contracting the virus are slim. However, if your horse is in large groups and in close contact, such as in horse shows, racetracks, and inside boarding stables, the chances one of the horses could have the flu and spread it are higher.

Because the flu is spread when horses are in close proximity with each other, there is no set “flu season.” The flu can be spread anytime a group of horses are around each other. But in the winter, when horses are cooped up in barns with poor ventilation, in horse trailers, and indoor show facilities, it can increase the odds of the flu being passed around.

The horses most at risk of infection are foals, who have no immunity to the virus, and older or sick horses, who have compromised immune systems. Otherwise, if your horse has been vaccinated and has low-level exposure to other horses, they should remain free of the virus unless they come in close contact with a horse that is producing large amounts of the virus.

Stay tuned for our next post when we’ll go over the symptoms of equine flu.

Recently imposed stall confinement is associated with 54% of impaction colic cases; researchers on another study found 62% of colon impactions occurred within two weeks of significant management changes, such as stall confinement or transport. Earl Gaughan, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, a surgeon at Littleton Equine Medical Center, in Colorado, notes, “The word ‘change’ is the most important factor–changes in feed and housing, especially if concurrent, pose a bad formula for intestinal health.”

For a horse accustomed to stall confinement and consistent feeding, additional stall time is not as big a worry. However, Gaughan remarks, “Intensive housing and feeding programs enhance the potential for colic problems as compared to horses living at pasture with the opportunity to regulate their own feeding patterns.”

He says to use common sense when stabling: “Minimize changes in feed type, volume, frequency, and water availability.”

Reduce feed quantity, especially of concentrates. Vets have acknowledged that free-choice forage intake reduces the incidence of developing gastric ulcers, and Gaughan recommends feeding less calorie-rich hay and supplements. Minimizing a horse’s overall stress can also deter ulcers.

Exercise increases metabolism, and there’s evidence that light physical activity (walking) stimulates gastrointestinal motility. Fiber digestibility increases by up to 20% in exercised horses, promoting greater retention of the fluid part of the diet and shortened retention of the more formed, particulate part, deterring impaction colic.

Just as dietary changes challenge equine digestion, horses with sudden decreases in activity should be monitored closely for digestive problems that can lead to colic. Gaughan says, “As much turnout time as possible is best for overall equine health.”

Thinking Warm Thoughts

It’s freezing outside. Again. Spring just keeps feeling farther and farther away. So we’re thinking warm thoughts with these pictures today!

horse beach 1

 

horse beach 2

 

horse beach 3

When the weather’s frightful and our horses end up snowbound in their stalls, who gets antsier, us or them? I know I get pretty cranky when I can’t ride and I’m feeling sorry for my horses locked up inside. Horses are designed by nature to always be moving and foraging. Research shows that horses left to their own devices will eat 18 to 22 hours per day. Horses stuck in a stall with just twice-a day-feedings and little other stimulation can quickly become very bored—something that might be happening to many of our horses in with the recent wintry weather.

Boredom isn’t only a mental thing for them. It can cause real health issues and subsequent vet bills with such things as weight gain, bickering or fighting between horses resulting in injuries, ulcers, stall vices (such as chewing or weaving) and even colic.

Luckily there are a few things we can do to help alleviate boredom. I’m going to cover two options. This week I’ll talk about horse toys and next week I’ll discuss a new system of feeding horses, usually referred to as slow feeders.

A variety of horse toys are available these days including balls, licking toys (ones with sugar or salt in them) or ones with a food treat inside that encourage the horse to pursue the toy. Spend a little time at your favorite farm supply store or with a catalogue looking for ideas, being sure to check out the pet department. I have a heavy-duty medium sized ball on a rope which was meant for a large dog but my young horses will often play with it (once in a while the horse and dog will actually even play together with it!)

You may be able to make your own toys such as with a safe plastic object, such as an orange arena cone, or even a heavy branch from a non-toxic tree (check with your veterinarian for their advice on local tree species which aren’t toxic.) I’ve seen empty plastic milk jugs (sans caps) make good toys, at least until they’re destroyed. You could also tie a milk jug onto a rope hung in a stall for an active, young horse to knock around. There may also be human toys that might work for horses, such as a large bouncing ball.

Keeping Your Horse Warm

The temperatures are dropping, which means it’s time to wrap your horse in a winter blanket to help keep him warm. Knowing what blanket size to get can make all the difference in the world in keeping your horse warm.

If the blanket you select is too large or too small, the blanket could slip out of place or rub against the horse’s skin, causing irritation. There are two major factors to take into account when picking the right blanket size:

Accurate measurements: The most important measurement to find is the length of blanket needed. To find this, measure the distance from the center of your horse’s chest to the rear of his quarters, or the point where you expect the blanket to finish. Most blankets are measured in two- or three-inch increments, so figure accordingly in your measurements.

Your horse’s build: Is your horse stocky or bigger in size? Is he more finely built or skinnier? Knowing the answers to these questions tells you whether you need a blanket that’s slightly larger than the length you’ve measured (for the stockier horse) or one that is a size smaller (for the more finely built horse).

Also, you should have two separate blankets, one for turnout and one for when he is in the stable. Keep in mind that the blanket you use for turnout will probably be a size bigger than the stable blanket to allow for movement.

Finding the right-sized blanket ensures your horse is warm and comfortable during the cold, winter months.